View from the Stands (6/19/2013)
by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Blogger & Twitter Commentator
Well Donny Schatz did it again. He will be the man to beat at the Knoxville Nationals. I’m not sure if anyone can beat him other than “lady luck” right now. Brian Brown is close to having Schatz’ number at Knoxville. Brown was leading and was pulling away at one point, but Schatz was closing a bit in lapped traffic, and if a lapped car hadn’t suddenly slowed and been in his way I think Brown might have been able to beat Schatz.
Looking at the replay on SPEED, there was no contact made between Brown and the lapped car of Kraig Kinser, but it was close, and Brown had to get on the brakes to avoid running over Kraig, which sent him into an extremely rough cushion that sucked his front end into the turn two fence and bent his right front wheel and front axle. It was a bad break, but I was impressed Brown held on for second, and I can’t wait to see if Brown or someone else can give Schatz a test in August.
The Knoxville Regulars looked really good on Saturday night, probably the best run for them in recent memory. Bronson Maeschen set quick time, Davey Heskin was second quick, which locked both drivers in the dash. Maybe they had an advantage with more experience at getting their fuel set right in the humid air, but they didn’t go out early in the qualifying order. In the feature at the halfway point the Regulars held four of the top five positions as the running order was Brown, Schatz, Maeschen, Heskin, and Ian Madsen. Before the red flag on lap nine Maeschen was reeling in Schatz, and Heskin was reeling in both of them. After the red Heskin said his tire sealed up and it was never the same, and eventually went flat with six laps to go when he was running in fifth. Maeschen was running great in third and even when he broke a rocker arm on lap sixteen and was on seven cylinders he was holding on to third. Maeschen then started running out of fuel with two laps to go and coasted to tenth at the end. Ian came home in fourth and with Zomer and McCarl having hard luck, Ian now has a commanding 215 point lead over Zomer and is the leader of the pack. If Ian can get through twin features night in two weeks with no problems, get a feature win, avoid having a DNF, he is going to be tough to beat for the track championship.
The World of Outlaws are about to become a one man show this season. Look for Schatz to win a lot more races in the coming months and pull away to win the championship, barring weird circumstances. I don’t see Pittman holding on to the lead much longer. And Paul McMahan is hanging in there at the top as well. Both McMahan and Pittman looked better this week at Knoxville than they did in May however.
As hot as Craig Dollanksy was coming into Knoxville he didn’t show us much on Saturday night with a ninth place finish. I was expecting him up front with the leaders, but look out for him at the Nationals, he is a serious contender. What has happened with Sammy Swindell this season? His average finish at the two WoO events at Knoxville this year is fourteenth. Steve Kinser’s average is sixteenth. Could we go two years in a row with no Steve and Sammy in the Saturday A-Main come Nationals? I think we might.
Cody Darrah finished twenty third. I’m just going to say it. Unless Darrah wins a few races soon, he won’t be back in the KKR #4 next year. Not sure why KKR let Joey go and kept Darrah at the end of last season. Darrah seems like a good kid, he drives hard, but the combination isn’t working in his third year with the team. Hey Kasey Kahne, I have four words for you, Shane Stewart-Paul Silva.
Kerry Madsen is a guy to watch at the Nationals. He was in the top ten when he was pushed into the front stretch fence and had to change a tire, restart at the tail, and finished eleventh. Kerry fell victim to the double file restart rules of the WoO, which I despise. I still think Tim Kaeding is a guy to watch at Nationals, and so is David Gravel with Tyler Swank turning the wrenches.
Watch out for Danny Lasoski at Nationals. There is no one that knows Knoxville Raceway better than The Dude. Lasoski, in his own 33 car, won the B-main, then drove from eighteenth to sixth in the feature. Lasoski hasn’t made the nationals A-Main the past three years and has yet to run a fifty lap race at Knoxville. If he can time well in the Zemco 1z in August and get into the fifty lap Nationals feature, he has a legit chance to win. I can’t imagine giving Lasoski a built in a pit stop while running in the top five at halfway in a fifty lapper. Don’t count him out if he is in the field of twenty-four, no matter where he starts.
Wayne Johnson is struggling this season as he branches out trying to compete with the WoO more frequently. He looked awful this past week at Knoxville. His average finish is 20.8 with the Outlaws in seventeen races, with two top ten finishes. Wayne is a heckuva driver and I sure hope he gets the 77x car going better soon. He needs your support race fans, cheer him on and give him some encouragement when you get the opportunity. Cowboy Up Wayne!!!
How about Joe Beaver setting a new 360 track record this week with a lap 15.520! Unfortunately that didn’t translate into much for Beaver later with a eighth place feature finish and Clint Garner winning another race.
The 360 class is starting to die I’m afraid. It’s amazing, five or ten years ago I would have said it was more likely that the 410 might fade away before the 360. This past week we had the lowest car count I can ever remember with only fourteen cars showing up. Factors for low count might be the weather, higher pit passes for WoO events, but it’s still a full points night so plenty at stake. Some teams have had engine issues. This week Tyler Groenendyk was gone (engine), RJ Johnson (engine), Randy Martin, Tony Schilling has missed three weeks now with an engine “issue” I’m told. Heard his engine needs to be recertified. Laney Feight, Josh Riggins, Chad Heimbaugh, Casey Fredrichsen, Mike Houseman Jr., all missing this week. Thank goodness Ryan Roberts, Matt Juhl, and Gregg Bakker came this week or it might have only been a car count of eleven. The writing is on the wall now, a car count of fourteen is a look into the near future of 360 racing. Not sure if that is a good or a bad thing.
If I am Emmett Hahn and ASCS right now, I would be worried. And if I’m a car owner with a handful of 360 engines, I’m even more worried. What used to be a less expensive option to race in has become the more expensive option suddenly. (Read my previous blog interview with Dustin Selvage for reference.) The cars and tires are all the same cost, but engine builders are finding a way to squeeze more horsepower out of the 360 and the rebuilds are coming sooner. Unless someone finds a way to make the 360 engine less expensive and last a lot longer they will fade away, because that was the advantage of 360 racing in years prior, even though they race for less purse money. We need to get a handle on 305 costs soon before they get even more out of control than they are already.
So sad to hear about Jason Leffler passing last week. My thoughts are with his family, especially his little boy, just heartbreaking.
Note to Mother Nature: That is three weeks in a row you have tried to spoil the party at Knoxville, but you gave us just enough room to work with. But sure wish you would give us one good Saturday where it is warm with no threat of rain for a change.
The Dunkin’s amaze me with their track prep. They had the track opened up Thursday and ready to take rain Friday and Saturday. When they were watering the track with sprinkles coming down yet at 6:30 on Saturday night I was shaking my head, but I will never second guess them again. Because of their hard work, experience, and talent, we got a race in Saturday night. Now if we could just get some concrete on the inside of turn four and the front stretch push off area (work area), we would never have to wait out a rain delay for the infield to be worked in, or to pull stuck trailers out of the mud. Kudos to the push truck drivers as well this weekend!
I honestly feel like the WoO teams and staff were ready to pack it in around 6:00 or 7:00pm Saturday. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it was like pulling teeth to get all of the teams to come into the infield at the last minute, and the teams that had their trailers in the infield early wouldn’t roll their cars out. The WoO waited as long as possible to start the pill draw and drivers meeting, wouldn’t even let the teams push off their cars to warm the engines until there was zero precipitation falling. It was frustrating to watch and I wish people would have a little more faith in our officials and track prep crew than they do in their radar. In Iowa, you can’t trust the radar or the weather forecasters.
My wife and I were able to sit in a suite this week on the front stretch. If you have never sat in a suite on the front stretch or at the Hall of Fame in turn two, it is a cool experience and I would recommend it. I personally prefer to sit outside where I can hear and smell the cars and have the same vantage point I’ve had all of my life in my usual seat in Section D. But once or twice a year it is fun as the suites are very nice, and not that expensive if you consider you can bring your own food and drink upstairs.
Keep up to date with Knoxville Nationals entries as they come in by following the tweets I will be putting out at @knoxvillenats nearly every day as the entries roll in and we countdown to August 1 and the 360 Nationals. Good news, Kyle Larson is entered in the 360 and 410 Nationals! Will be great to see #YungMoney back with us.
This Saturday is (gulp) mid-season championship and Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame night. This years inductees are, driver Norm Weimers, owner Jack Anderson, owner Stanley Shoff, promoter Ralph Capitani and owner Marlin Wineland. Then the all-important twin features nights are to follow for the 360’s on June 29, and for the 410’s on July 6.
Blake Anderson is moving to Charlotte this week. Blake has been an announcer at Knoxville over the past five years, and he was with USAC for one summer. Blake is a great kid and is from my hometown of Newton, and now a college graduate in pursuit of his dream. He has done a wonderful job announcing at Knoxville, and had some great calls at the 50th Nationals main event when Tim Shaffer won. It has been a lot of fun to know him personally and witness Blake grow up and mature from a kid announcing Newton high school baseball games, to Boone Speedway, Marshalltown, and then move up to Knoxville and USAC. He has a bright future ahead of him, and I’m proud to call him a friend. Good luck Blake!
I’ll be back next week with my first round of Knoxville Nationals power rankings. See you in the stands!
*Eric can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @_EricArnold.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Knoxville Raceway.